Arab League moots joint UN peace force for Syria
CAIRO/AMMAN THE Arab League called on Sunday for the UN Security Council to send a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping mission to Syria and decided to scrap its own monitoring team, according to a resolution approved by ministers.
The resolution called for “opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and material support to it”, according to the final resolution drawn up at a meeting in Cairo. It also urged the Syrian opposition to unite.
The resolution said violence against civilians in Syria had violated international law and “perpetrators deserve punishment”. The resolution reaffirmed a call for Arabs to impose economic sanctions on Syria and decided on ending diplomatic cooperation with Damascus.
Syria on Sunday “categorically” rejected the decision by Arab foreign ministers to back the Syrian opposition and call for a joint UNArab peacekeeping mission, the Syrian ambassador to Cairo said.
“The Syrian Arab Republic categorically rejects the decisions of the Arab League,” which he said “reflects the hysteria of these governments” after failing to get foreign intervention at the UN Security Council, Yusef Ahmed said in a statement.
At the meeting, Tunisia said it would host the first meeting on February 24 of a “Friends of Syria” contact group made up of Arab and other states and backed by the West.
Ministers also proposed sending a joint Arab-UN peace-keeping team to Syria, replacing an Arab mission beset by problems since it began work in December.
“How long will we stay as onlookers to what is happening to the brotherly Syrian people, and how much longer will we grant the Syrian regime one period after another so it can commit more massacres against its people?” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal asked ministers at the start of the League session.
“At our meeting today I call for decisive measures, after the failure of the half-solutions,” he said. “The Arab League should...open all channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and give all forms of support to it.” He did not specify if that support should include military aid. Western powers have shunned military action, despite widespread condemnation of the repression of the uprising, in which thousands have been killed since it erupted last March.
In the besieged Syrian town of Homs, sporadic rocket and gunfire broke a respite in government bombardments of opposition held neighbourhoods, killing at least four people, according to the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Crowds attended the funerals of some of the 28 people killed in bombings of two military sites in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday - attacks the government cited as proof of its contention that it is fighting foreign-backed terrorists.
International efforts to resolve the crisis, among the bloodiest of Arab revolts that overthrew leaders in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia last year, reached an impasse on February 4 when Russia and China blocked a Westernbacked Arab peace plan at the UN Security Council that called for Assad to step down.
Sunday’s meeting in Cairo opened with the resignation of the Sudanese general who led an Arab League peace mission to Syria in December, Mohammed al Dabi. He had been a controversial figure because of his country’s own poor human rights record.
Arab League chief Nabil al Arabi said he was proposing a new joint Arab-UN monitoring team to Syria. Arabi said last week that any new mission would have to be bigger and better equipped and with a different mandate.
The idea of a joint Arab-UN mission has won only a tepid response from UN diplomats.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Ben Adessalam told ministers that his country would host a meeting of “Friends of Syria,” a plan proposed by France and the United States after Russia and China blocked the Security Council resolution.
“The Syrian people deserve freedom as much as their brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab states that witnessed major political change,” he said. Ministers from Gulf Arab states, which have been leading the drive to isolate Assad and end the crackdown on the protests against his 11-year rule, met separately earlier.